Children visiting the outpatients ward at Harare Hospital paediatrics unit were delighted one morning last month, when the doors to a brand new playground swung open for the first time.
The $10,000 needed to build and equip the playground was donated by retired German couple, Dr Beate and Leonhard Thomas. It was disbursed by Hans and Doris Herz to the Children’s Hospital Trust Welfare Sub Committee. The playground was built on the recommendation of Sue Powell, wife to Dr Greg Powell – both of whom have worked with the hospital for some time.
Walking into the ward at 10am on 3 March was a gloomy experience. It is a place where wait times can run up to five hours. The long, dim passage of paediatrics was heaving with people: sitting, standing and lying down on the cold tiles. Mothers and their children fighting boredom, clock watching, feeling sick, all with nothing to do.
By 10:30am, everything had changed. German ambassador Ulrich Klöckner was responsible for cutting the ribbon. A jubilant mob of children immediately shouldered him aside, and poured out into the sunlight, mounting bikes, kicking balls, summiting ladders, and swinging high. Laughter and smiles were everywhere. The grownups looked on, the job was done, and the laughter said clearly, ‘Thanks, we’ve got it from here.’
And so, with a bit of reluctance, the officials, staff and guests left the busy playground and tended to formalities. It was Harare Hospital CEO Mrs Peggy Zvavamwe’s job to give context to the occasion. She elaborated on how busy a place Harare Hospital is, citing figures of 1,300 deliveries a month, with 10 to 12 caesarean sections performed per day; 600–800 outpatients on a daily basis. And with 1,200 patients checked in at any one time, the hospital kitchens have to pump out more than 3,000 hot meals every 24 hours. The paediatric ward alone sees between 70 and 100 children passing through outpatients every day, with 80 children occupying a space meant for 60. It’s figures like these that keep Zvavamwe up at night, and why assistance is so welcome.
Dr Powell spoke on the work of the Herz couple. Hans and Doris Hertz initially heard about Zimbabwe after their son visited to carry out medical research in the 90s during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They were inspired to start fundraising almost immediately, and have built up a network of donors at home in Germany that has pledged more than $1 million to date. Over 11,000 disadvantaged children living in Zimbabwe today get a daily meal courtesy of the Hertz couple and their network. The playground came from their neighbourhood friends, the Thomas’s – who are, according to Hans Hertz, “not rich, just ordinary middle class people.” The $10,000 donation was a portion of a small inheritance received by the couple recently, Hans Hertz told the guests and hospital staff present.
Dr Powell also highlighted some of the other projects that the Children’s Hospital Trust has brought to light recently, including a $65,000 audiology unit via the Beit Trust, to diagnose and assist hearing impaired children, and a mothers’ room courtesy of the Australian Embassy, where, according to Powell, “the mothers of these children can enjoy comfortable chairs during the day and somewhere to bath.”
But the day was about the playground and adding value and purpose to the children’s health. Head of paediatrics, Dr Chikaka expressed this beautifully, saying “In our line of work, we are looking at the most basic physiological needs – trying to keep children alive. Take a message back to Mr and Mrs Thomas, and tell them that today the children have moved up from that basic physiological need, and there are smiles on their faces.”
A visibly moved Ambassador Klöckner used part of his speech to describe how instantaneously the problem of boredom and unhappiness was fixed. “I walked into this hall this morning and after 10 seconds I understood what the problem was. When I looked outside I knew what the solution was. And we saw earlier how fast the solution was accepted. I’m very happy to be here. The sun is shining today, especially for the children.”